Thanks to countless #fitspo Instagram posts and celebrities like Adriana Lima touting its benefits, the two-a-day workout trend is rapidly gaining ground. And while you might be thinking, “Well, one workout a day is more than enough," it turns out that there are a few benefits to working out twice a day, as long as you’re doing it the right way to avoid injury.
For starters, while you probably shouldn't be doing two full-length workouts per day, splitting up your workout — doing half of your workout in the morning and the other half later in the afternoon or evening — is actually a pretty good idea. It helps give your body rest, allowing you to work at your highest level of intensity, says Mike Donavanik. CSCS, and celebrity trainer, in Los Angeles.
“Think about it like work. The reason people take breaks / lunch breaks is in an attempt to give their mind and body a rest…so when they get back into their shift — they are hopefully more clear-headed and productive,” he explains. While the exact duration of your workouts depends on your activity level and fitness goals, you can try exercising for 30 minutes in the morning, and then 30 again in the evening. (It's also important to keep in mind that some workouts might take longer for others — for instance, lifting might take longer than straight cardio — so they don't have to be evenly split up.)
“For that 60-90 minutes when you’re going all out, it can be both physically and mentally draining,” he says. By splitting up your exercise, you can be more focused and have greater energy and strength output, he advises.
What actually happen to your body when you do two workouts a day?
As you’re raising your heart rate, boosting circulation and blood flow to the muscles, and getting a sweat on, your body undergoes stress and those muscles begin to get tired, says Donavanik.
But once you’ve finished that first workout, getting a few hours of rest allows your body to recover and bring itself back to homeostasis levels, he explains. “Heart rate, blood flow, hormones — they all start to balance back out, so your body is not in a ‘stressed’ state,” he says. In that time, you’re able to reboot for another workout, particularly if you eat a post-workout snack or use a foam roller beforehand. (You can try this foam roller for deep tissue massage from Amazon for $21.95.)
As an added benefit, if you hit the gym twice a day, your muscles can actually increase in mass and strength over time, says Dr. Paul Mostoff, Chief of Physical Therapy at the NYC-based All Sports Physical Therapy. “By hitting each muscle twice a day, you literally double the amount of stimulus that your muscle receives. Every time you train, you provide your body with a stimulus, which promotes greater protein synthesis and muscular adaptation,” he says. “So by training twice per day, you're giving your body the signal to ‘grow and get stronger’ twice as often."
What’s more, you may also reap the benefits of Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), known as the “afterburn effect,” which means your metabolism spikes for the next few hours, Donavanik says. With EPOC, you’ll naturally burn more calories in the body naturally, so you’ll more effectively blast the calories in your post-workout snack, too. When you’re doing two-a-day workouts, you get that lucky afterburn twice. (That doesn't, however, give you an excuse to gorge yourself on mac and cheese balls post-workout: some research indicates that the afterburn effect is relatively small.)
Plus, if you have a day of back-to-back meetings and then a social obligation in the evening, splitting your workout in two for a morning energy boost and an evening refresher could be a smart idea. “Any time you work out, hormones kick in to make you more alert and productive in that time. Your body will also fight fatigue for some time after the workout,” says Donavanik. If you're an insomniac, your sleep might also improve if you work out in the evening: “Most people will find it easier to fall asleep because they’re placing a greater demand on their body, so they’ll naturally feel more exhausted and be able to fall asleep easier."
There is, however, one caveat: If you’re not used to training and you go right into two-a-day workouts, you might be more sluggish than usual, he cautions. This can happen even if you’re splitting one workout in half, as your body isn’t used to working out twice in a day. Either way, seek guidance from a trainer before diving in.
It's also important to note that not all exercises are fair game. For instance, working with weights twice in one day could put too much strain on your muscles and hinder your recovery, Donavanik says.
“I always urge people who embark on two-a-days to have one session be more strength-focused and the other be more cardio focused," he says. "That way, you’re able to go for full intensity both workouts." If you do CrossFit in the morning, for instance, don't do it again in the afternoon; instead, go for a run or take a spin class.
But if you’re looking to use two-a-day workouts to build strength and “bulk up,” you might want to save the heavy lifting for the evening, says Mostoff.
“Trying to lift super heavy and going for a max effort lift when you first wake up in the morning is a disaster waiting to happen, as your joints really haven't warmed up yet and your spine may not tolerate such heavy loading after laying in bed all night,” he says. It's usually better to have the less intense session earlier in the day and save the heavier session for later in the evening.
So should you try it? Well, it depends on your fitness goals, says Donavanik. If you're trying to get more cardio and burn more fat, you're probably a better candidate to do two-a-days than someone who, say, is trying to bulk up, as working out too often might put too much strain on the muscles.
It's also essential to give your body a lot of love before and after every session. “Paying special attention to proper warm-ups, hydration, sleep, nutrition, and giving yourself enough rest between training sessions in the same day (at least 4-5 hours), will help avoid the pitfalls of over-training,” says Mostoff